College Football: The Top 50 Greatest Books On The Sport
As one of the most storied sports in America, it should come as no surprise that college football has been written about so extensively and eloquently.
People have been playing college football for nearly a century and a half, which means there's plenty of material with which writers have been able to work and more than enough history to fill a small library.
And, with approximately seven months left until the 2011 college football season kicks off, there is sure to be plenty of downtime in the lives of the sport's most rabid fans to pick up a book or two and load up on new material for all of those "best/worst/greatest" debates that are sure to come.
With that in mind, here's a look at 50 of the best books about college football available on book shelves everywhere.
What better book to start with, for fans young and old, than with the bible of football–American Football.
Written by Walter Camp, known as "The Father of American Football," and published in 1891, this canon of the gridiron details everything one could ever want to know about the early years of America's game, from its roots in rugby to the roles and duties of each player on the field, from how to train for the game to how to watch it from the stands.
In short, this book is a must-read for any truly die-hard fan of the pigskin.
Stars Of an Earlier Autumn: College Football From 1869-1936
Walter Camp himself is prominently featured in Tex Noel's Stars of an Earlier Autumn: College Football From 1869-1936.
The result of more than 17 years of extensive research by Noel, one of the most prominent historians of college football, this volume is replete with stories, interviews, statistics and everything in between from the game's infancy, when it grew from a strange offshoot of rugby into a national pastime.
For those interested in how the game of football came to be from Walter Camp and into the Great Depression, this book is an absolute gem.
Red Grange and The Rise Of Modern Football
If one had to pick out a single person as the reason for the rise of football in America, it would have to be Red Grange.
In Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football, John M. Carroll gives a masterful telling of how the "Galloping Ghost" became one of the country's most revered sports celebrities in the 1920s, when the game of football was just gaining a foothold in the mainstream.
Carroll beautifully contextualizes Grange as quiet man of rural values who became a symbol of the old American ethic in a time of increased industrialization and technological breakthrough.
Thus, whether you're looking for a football biography or a piece on American history in microcosm, this book should be right up your alley.
While Red Grange did much as an individual to boost the profile of football, the Notre Dame football program, perhaps more than any other, is responsible for inscribing the college game into the American psyche.
And there's certainly no shortage of books documenting the stories and accomplishments of the Fighting Irish, though Jack Cavanaugh's The Gipper: George Gipp, Knute Rockne and the Dramatic Rise of Notre Dame Football is certainly among the best.
In it, Cavanaugh masterfully illustrates how Notre Dame went from being a more-or-less anonymous Catholic school in rural Indiana to a national powerhouse, looking at everyone and everything from the legendary Knute Rockne, the rivalry games with Army in New York City and, of course, the impact of George "The Gipper" Gipp.
Mr. Notre Dame: The Life and Legend Of Edward "Moose" Krause
For those die-hard Irish fans out there looking for a true sports biography, Jason Kelly's Mr. Notre Dame: The Life and Legend of Edward "Moose" Krause is a terrific choice.
This book packs a strong appeal not just to Notre Dame fanatics, but also to all people, sports fans or no, who take heart in stories about tragedy and triumph, with which Edward Krause's life was replete.
As an All-American football and basketball player, "Moose" was both an incredible athlete as well as a tremendously complex man, making his story one that anybody can appreciate.
Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making Of a Football Legend
Not to overdo it on the Notre Dame literature, but no collection of books about the Fighting Irish would be complete without Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend.
Ray Robinson gives a marvelous account of the life and times of Knute Rockne, the great coach who became something of a mythological figure in the world of American sports even before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1931.
Robinson does plenty to deconstruct Rockne's legend and depict him as a human being with tremendous aspirations and acumen for his passion while also lifting him back into the hallowed heavens of St. Knute-dom.
Any Golden Domer would do well to refer to this one should the need to brush up on "The Rock" become a priority.
The Lion in Autumn: A Season With Joe Paterno and Penn State Football
From legends of yesteryear to those who still stalk the sidelines, The Lion in Autumn: A Season with Joe Paterno and Penn State Football is part biography, part chronology, and all brilliance.
Frank Fitzpatrick documents the Nittany Lions' on- and off-field struggles during the 2004 season, a campaign which, at the time, marked the fourth consecutive poor performance by Penn State under longtime coach Joe Paterno in the early 2000s, all the while intertwining stories from Paterno's past and that of the program as a whole.
In attempting to address the question of what to do about a faltering Hall of Famer, this book digs deep into the nature of college football as a whole while providing a meaningful and insightful account of the life and times of the man known as "JoePa."
Bowden: The Life and Legacy Of Bobby Bowden
Just behind JoePa on the all-time wins list is Bobby Bowden, whose life and accomplishments have been chronicled in many a worthwhile book, and rightfully so.
Among the most notable is Bowden: The Life and Legacy of Bobby Bowden, in which Mike Freeman gives a detailed and moving account of the legendary coach's life, from his childhood in the segregated South to his final days as the head coach at Florida State.
In between, Freeman discusses Bowden's rise through the ranks of the college football world as a man noted for turning programs around, with his biggest reclamation job coming at Florida State.
All in all, Bowden gives the reader an extended peek inside the life of a man who forever changed the college football landscape.
On Rocky Top: A Front-Row Seat To The End Of An Era
Like that of Bowden at FSU, Philip Fulmer's tenure as the head coach at Tennessee came to something of an abrupt end, which Clay Travis so rivetingly documents in his book On Rocky Top: A Front-Row Seat to the End of an Era.
What, for Travis, began as simply a project focused on giving the public a glimpse into a season riding along with the Volunteers became a bit more interesting when 2008 became Fulmer's last on the sidelines.
As such, Travis' book turns out to be something of a roller coaster ride, from the highs of a hopeful preseason to the lows of losses to teams like UCLA and South Carolina, ultimately resulting in Fulmer having to abandon his long-held post.
God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in The SEC
Fulmer's firing was, in part, the result of a culture of SEC football stoked by the flames of fervent fans, as portrayed in God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC.
Chad Gibbs, a man known much more for his comedy exploits than his love of football, provides a humorous take on college football in the South as something akin to idolatry, with fans packing stadiums every Saturday like mega-churches to worship their favorite players and coaches.
Definitely a worthwhile read for any football fanatic with a sense of humor.
SEC Football: 75 Years Of Pride and Passion
Richard Scott gives something more of a serious and historical account of the SEC in his book, SEC Football: 75 Years of Pride and Passion.
Between the stunning photographs, Scott beautifully documents the rich history and tradition of the Southeastern Conference, decade by decade, program by program, in a way that goes far beyond your average coffee-table book.
Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football From The Sixties To The BCS Era
On a similar timeline, Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football From the Sixties to the BCS Era takes readers on a journey through the makings and machinations that led to the state of contemporary college football.
Authored by Michael Oriard, who played at Notre Dame in the 1960s, this book takes a keen look at issues that have impacted the game over the years, from the treatment of "student-athletes" to the lowering of admissions standards, from college football as down-home and pastoral to college football as big business..
Bowled Over, then, is an important book written by one of the sport's pre-eminent historians.
Death to The BCS: The Definitive Case Against The Bowl Championship Series
Perhaps no development in college football more singularly signifies the shift in the sport over the last several decades than the BCS, which Dan Wetzel, Jeff Passan and Josh Peter do their best to take apart in Death to the BCS!: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.
With three of the best investigative journalists in sports as its authors, this book does an incredibly thorough job of untangling the complicated mess that is the BCS, looking at why this system, which seems itself to be so incredibly inane, exists and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The 50-Year Seduction
Not to get stuck in a rut of disheartening and pessimistic books about college football, but no honest discussion of the history of the sport would be complete without The 50-Year Seduction: How Television Manipulated College Football, from the Birth of the Modern NCAA to the Creation of the BCS.
Keith Dunnavant does a masterful job of detailing, as impartially and with as much relevant detail as one could ever want, the growth of college football into a television-driven business and, essentially, its transition from one monopoly, under the hand of the NCAA, to another, now headed by the BCS.
In short, a must-read for anyone interested in the big picture of the business of college football.
Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls
Keeping the debate over the soul of college football alive, Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls is the perfect book for sparking lively conversation among friends and fans.
Written by Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, this tome serves as a bulk version of his weekly "Mailbag" column, with plenty of sass and sarcasm to boot.
Whether you agree with Mandel's opinions or not, Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls is highly entertaining and a worthy addition to any sports library.
Who's #1? 100-Plus Years Of Controversial National Champions in College Football
Not to overdo it on the controversy, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention in passing Who's #1? 100-Plus Years Of Controversial National Champions in College Football.
Christopher Walsh breaks down a century of college football by classifying programs as perennial powers, contenders, and former greats, while also delving into such hot-button topics as determining the greatest program in college football history and discussing a number of disputed titles.
Walsh's book, thus, provides readers with a slightly less impartial, and thus slightly more interesting, account of college football history.
On a similar time scale but with a slightly less controversial bent, Pigskin Warriors: 140 Years of College Football's Greatest Traditions, Games, and Stars chronicles the game of college football in a much broader context.
Steven Travers places the game within a discussion of American society as a whole, providing a fascinating run-down of the interplay between football, pop culture, and history, thereby bringing an intellectual flavor to a game of brawn.
Talking Irish: The Oral History Of Notre Dame Football
No program has as close a connection to the history of college football than Notre Dame, and no book describes the history of the program with quite as much honesty and irreverence as Steven Delsohn's Talking Irish: The Oral History of Notre Dame Football.
Through a series of first-person accounts from the likes of Ara Parseghian, Johnny Lujack and Tim Brown, among others, this book documents the history of the Fighting Irish football team from the 1940s onward, shedding light on a program that, as it turns out, wasn't quite as holy and wholesome as it was purported to have been.
Talking Irish is refreshingly honest in its approach and does plenty to frame Notre Dame within the bigger picture of major college football.
Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries
Of course, the history of Notre Dame football is replete with rivalries, from Michigan to Miami to USC, some of which are included in Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries.
In this book, sports reporters Ken Rappoport and Barry Wilner break down the top 25 rivalries in college football, ranking them according to such criteria as tradition, intensity and familiarity.
In the end, Football Feuds adds plenty of fuel to the perennially raging fire of which teams in college football truly hate each other most (and deserve to do so).
Big Games: College Football's Greatest Rivalries
In Big Games: College Football's Greatest Rivalries, Michael Bradley takes the analysis of the sport's most celebrated rivalries to the next level, narrowing the focus from 25 to 10.
Bradley devotes an entire chapter to each of the 10 chosen rivalries, with an in-depth historical study of each, including the biggest games and most important players, coaches and moments that have defined how schools like Michigan and Ohio State, Notre Dame and USC, and Cal and Stanford have come to hate each other with such passion and fervor.
War As They Knew It
With an even more intense focus still, Michael Rosenberg's War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and America in a Time of Unrest does a beautiful job of intertwining one of college football's greatest rivalry with prevailing American history.
In the book, Rosenberg discusses how the historical hot bed of the late 1960s and 1970s impacted the football programs at Michigan and Ohio State, with Ann Arbor being an epicenter of anti-war and anti-government protest while Columbus served as something of a bastion of college football.
A great piece of historical literature for those interested in the complex relationship between sports and society.
College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era
The interplay between Ohio State and Michigan in the mid-20th century also plays a significant role in College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era.
Kurt Edward Kemper keenly connects college football to the anxieties of the Cold War era, examining the social, political, psychological and anthropological implications of a game that came to symbolize American ideals of hard work and cooperation in the face of existential uncertainty stemming from the rise of Soviet Russia.
50 Years of College Football: A Modern History of America's Most Colorful Sport
Though occurring within the same time frame as Kemper's book, Bob Boyles' 50 Years of College Football: A Modern History of America's Most Colorful Sport is much of an encyclopedia than a work of historical non-fiction.
That being said, Boyles' book is nonetheless a work of art, filled with an absolute abundance of statistics, stories, game recaps and player profiles from 1955 to 2007, thereby providing a wealth of information essential to the work of any historian of modern college football.
Winning Football With The Air Option Passing Game
If you're looking for a much more technical account of modern college football, look no further than Winning Football With the Air Option Passing Game.
Steve Moore and Homer Rice do a superior job of diagramming the technicalities of the modern game in a way that is accessible to casual fans and full-time coaches alike.
Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World Of College Football Recruiting
Of course, winning football games in college is about more than just X's and O's.
As Bruce Feldman so cleverly chronicles in Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting, the underbelly of recruiting in the college football can be an interesting place, both hilarious and horrifying for everyone involved.
Feldman, a columnist for ESPN, goes into incredible detail in his documentation of the day-to-day goings-on along the proverbial recruiting trail, from scouting and evaluations to official and in-home visits.
Recruiting Confidential: A Father, a Son, and Big Time College Football
If you're looking for an even more personal look at college football recruiting, then Recruiting Confidential: A Father, a Son, and Big Time College Football is right up your alley.
David Claerbaut uses the story of James and his step-dad Dave to illuminate the ins and outs, triumphs and pitfalls, of the entire process while maintaining a focus on the heartwarming story of how the cabal of recruitment forges and strengthens the bonds between two family members.
Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity
For a slightly less sentimental account of the dirty business of college football, look no further than Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity.
Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry pull back the curtain on the 2000 Washington Huskies football team, which saw two dozen players arrested or charged with crimes and none of them serve any time whatsoever.
This acutely investigative piece sheds a fresh light on the "win at all costs" mentality that has become the overwhelming norm in the world of big-time college football.
College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy
Armstrong and Perry's book would fit quite well into the greater historical context created by John Sayles Watterson in College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy.
From its humble beginnings as a rough rugby knock-off to its current state as a big business built on the backs of amateurs, Watterson brings his keen sense of history to the game of college football and the ever-increasing rash of scandal that has befallen the sport as it has become bigger.
Making his second appearance on this list, ESPN's Bruce Feldman dips once again into the mud-strewn inner workings of college football with 'Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned The College Football Establishment.
Feldman examines the good, the bad and the ugly of the Miami Hurricanes' recent 25-year dynasty, masterfully recounting the story of a program that seemingly could do nothing but win on the field while getting into all manner of trouble off of it.
Jeff Carroll takes the Hurricanes' irreverent football dynasty of the late 1980s and pairs it against that of pristine Notre Dame in Perfect Rivals: Notre Dame, Miami, and the Battle For the Soul of College Football.
This book gives a rather dichotomous account of the two programs, as the 'Canes and the Irish faced each other five times over a six-year span, several times with national title implications.
For those who fondly recall the good ol' days of "Catholics vs. Convicts," and even for those who don't, Perfect Rivals is a perfect read.
Always Compete: An Inside Look at Pete Carroll and the USC Football Juggernaut
From one Notre Dame rival to another, Always Compete: An Inside Look at Pete Carroll and the USC Football Juggernaut is a fascinating insider account of how Pete Carroll, now of the Seattle Seahawks, lifted the Trojans football program out of the doldrums of the Paul Hackett era and back into the college football limelight.
Though written before the recent outbreak of NCAA scandal in Los Angeles, Steve Bisheff's book nonetheless shows readers how and why "Uncle Pete" turned USC around so quickly and with such tremendous on-field success.
Forever Red: Confessions Of a Cornhusker Football Fan
Jumping from the sideline and into the stands, Forever Red: Confessions of a Cornhusker Football Fan is a delightful romp through the mind of an obsessive college football fan, of which there are so many in America.
Steve Smith shows readers what it's like to be an absolute fanatic, using his own experience as a long-time Nebraska Cornhusker enthusiast to immerse the casual fan in a mindset that is at once completely insane and totally entertaining.
What It Means to Be a Husker
Moving back to the field, What It Means to Be a Husker is an account of Nebraska football from the point of view of the program's luminaries, including legendary coach Tom Osborne and the greatest players to wear the Crimson and Cream.
What It Means to Be a Husker is a meaningful memoir of anecdotes and quotes from those who made Big Red what it is today.
Dr. Eddie Anderson, Hall of Fame College Football Coach: A Biography
From one legend to another, Dr. Eddie Anderson, Hall of Fame College Football Coach: A Biography documents the life and times of one of the game's greatest and (these days) most unappreciated icons–Dr. Eddie Anderson.
Kevin Carroll carefully depicts the lasting influence that Dr. Anderson had on coaches, players, fans and the game as a whole over the course of his 43-year career, thereby providing a rather intriguing account of a man who was essentially the game's predecessor to the likes of Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno.
Never Before, Never Again: The Autobiography of Eddie Robinson
Then again, no coach's tenure at any particular institution can hold a candle to that of Eddie Robinson at Grambling State, which the legend himself dissects in Never Before, Never Again: The Autobiography of Eddie Robinson.
With 404 victories in 57 seasons as a black coach in the Deep South, Robinson gives an honest portrayal of the trials and tribulations of black athletes through the years, all the while maintaining a key focus on the interplay between sport and society of which he was such an integral part.
The Junction Boys
The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell With Bear Bryant Forged a Championship Team may not take place in the Deep South, or involve any black coaches or players of note, but it is nonetheless a gritty and enthralling account of a very particular period at a particular school in college football history.
Jim Dent's book tells the story of a harrowing 10-day training camp held by Paul "Bear" Bryant before his first season as the head coach at Texas A&M and how those that survived the hell of Junction, Texas, went on to lead the Aggies to a tremendous turnaround just two years later.
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into The Heart of Fan Mania
For those interested in more about Alabama football and the type of intense fandom that it implies, look no further than Warren St. John's Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into The Heart of Fan Mania.
St. John's book comes from the particular perspective of those obsessed Alabama Crimson Tide fans who roam the country from week to week in the fall by way of a caravan of RV's, spending long weekends on the road and staking the claim to prime tailgate real estate, while providing social scientists with the perfect case study for how and why people go so nuts for their favorite teams.
Every Week a Season: A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football
Likewise, sports journalist Brian Curtis takes an extended look at the lunacy that is college football in Every Week a Season: A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football.
By closely tracking the likes of Colorado State, Florida State and Boston College, among others, throughout the 2003 season, Curtis gains a greater understanding of what it means to be part of the world of major college football while giving readers unfettered access to the pressures and triumphs associated with it.
Field of Valor: Duty, Honor, Country, and Winning The Heisman
Taking a step back to the glory days of college football, Field of Valor: Duty, Honor, Country, and Winning The Heisman is a fascinating account of the five men from the U.S. service academies who have won the Heisman Trophy–Felix "Doc" Blanchard, Glenn Davis, Pete Dawkins, Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach.
Throughout the book, Jack Clary shows the reading public how the values of football and the military overlap, and how one sphere led to the tremendous success of the other in the case of these brave and highly decorated men.
Saturday Shrines: Best of College Football's Most Hallowed Grounds
On a slightly lighter note, Saturday Shrines: Best of College Football's Most Hallowed Grounds takes a more visual approach to the history of college football, depicting the 40 stadiums chosen by the Sporting News as being the best places to experience the game.
Using criteria like fan participation, quality of the marching band and the structures themselves, this book is a fantastic fit for any coffee table or for those fans who wish to be instantly transported to college football's most hallowed grounds.
Autumn's Cathedrals takes a slightly more democratic approach to the depiction of college football stadiums, with rich color photographs of every FBS team's home field.
Thanks to Jason and Stephanie Wolfe, anyone can bring the experience of every major college football stadium in the country home to their coffee table.
Call Me Coach: A Life in College Football
For those looking for a more personal account of the game, Paul Dietzel's Call Me Coach: A Life in College Football is more than an excellent choice.
The book serves both as an autobiography of Dietzel's career in college football as well as a relevant discussion of the similarities and differences between the modern game and its mid-20th century predecessor, all the while incorporating a wealth of anecdotes from the life of the first man to bring a national championship to LSU.
Paul Dietzel would likely endorse the philosophical underpinnings of Saturday Rules: Why College Football Outpasses, Outclasses, and Flat-Out Surpasses the NFL, which, as the title suggests, gives a subjective and biased but nonetheless entertaining account of why college football is far more enjoyable than its professional counterpart.
Author Austin Murphy takes his experiences from scouring the college football landscape during the 2006 season and molds them into one of the more enjoyable and light-hearted bits of football reading available today.
True Blue: The Carm Cozza Story
Yale may no longer be part of the world of big-time college football that Murphy so irreverently explored, but, in his autobiography entitled True Blue: The Carm Cozza Story, Coach Cozza himself gives an honest storytelling of his life, his tenure as the football coach at Yale and the dramatic shift in college football during his long and storied career.
Aside from documenting his own personal exploits, Cozza goes to great lengths to provide an honest critique of the path that college football has traveled and where it is likely headed in the years to come.
Miracle in the Making: The Adam Taliaferro Story
Few stories in the history of college football make for such heart-wrenching and uplifting material as that of Adam Taliaferro, as told so well by Scott Brown and Sam Carchidi in Miracle in the Making: The Adam Taliaferro Story.
Brown and Carchidi skillfully recount the recent tale of the freshman cornerback for the Penn State Nittany Lions, who was paralyzed making a head-first tackle in September 2000, but, through perseverance and with the help of friends, family and medical professionals, was not only able to walk again, but also lead his team onto the field the following year.
A book well worth reading for anyone looking for inspiration and hope.
The Maisel Report
Making his first and only appearance on this lengthy list, ESPN's Ivan Maisel does college football proud (or not, depending on how you feel about his opinions) in The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions.
As one might expect, Maisel divides the book into two parts–overrated and underrated–and looks irreverently and jocularly at the (you guessed it!) players, coaches, teams, fight songs and conferences that fit into each, with plenty of material that is just as sure to satisfy some fans as it is to stir others into a veritable frenzy.
Inside the Program: A History of College Football
Technically, Inside the Program: A History of College Football deserves two spots on this list, as it consists of two volumes documenting college football from its inception up to the present day.
However, for the sake of at least one other book on here, the masterwork of Edson Bearg and Thomas Rudebusch gets only one spot, though the sheer magnitude of this work, not to mention its incredible and vibrant detail, would otherwise warrant an entire list of its own.
Rites Of Autumn: The Story Of College Football
For those looking for a slightly more concise but nonetheless fascinating account of the history of college football, Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football is a great book with which to begin.
Written by Richard Whittingham and Roger Staubach, this tome, which accompanies the ESPN television series of the same name, gives readers a glimpse across time into the evolution of the sports and the vibrant culture that surrounds it every Saturday in the fall.
ESPN College Football Encyclopedia: The Complete History Of the Game
As far as pure historical depth and breadth is concerned, few books can hold even a candle to ESPN College Football Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Game.
This enormous volume has everything from complete capsules of every FBS, Ivy League and historically black football program to every bowl game box score, from annual schedules for every team to weekly polls dating back to 1936.
In short, this may very well be the book to top all other college football books...
The College Football Book
...If not for the folks at Sports Illustrated, whose own bible, The College Football Book, has done well to capture its own segment of the "everything you could ever think to want to know about college football" market.
Focusing less on objective statistics and schedules and more on stories and photographs, The College Football Book takes a much more anecdotal approach to college football history, and does so in glorious fashion.
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